When we talk of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the first words which come to mind are FRAGILE and ENORMOUS.
- Fragile: politically and socially. Since independence the country has undergone armed conflicts and political instability. Thankfully, last week’s Presidential inauguration ended over two years of ambiguity and uncertainty.
- Enormous: due to its size of no less than: 2.35 million km²; comparable to the size of Europe,
- Enormous: due to its wealth of natural resources 1,100 precious minerals, metals and gems
- Enormous: due to its poverty; one of the 10 poorest countries in the world. The average monthly salary for civil servants is 100 USD.
From September 2017 to December 2018, I accompanied my husband who was working in Kinshasa. I set out with great enthusiasm but also curiosity to discover the reality behind the media images. A country so wealthy and yet after years of international aid, this country was still struggling in political inertia, economic decline and endemic poverty. The rumba and the smiles of the Congolese population should not allow us to forget their daily plight.
The year spent in Congo was above else a year of encounters. Discovery of a country and its population. Meeting men and women who stand tall no matter what the difficulties, men and women who unremittingly continue their struggle for a decent life for themselves and their children.
Resilience for me is one of the key traits which distinguishes the Congolese population. From the outside, one might think that there is somewhat widescale apathy, that there is a certain fatality and lack of « fighting spirit ». Yet for many, it is the complete opposite. When you live in a lawless region like Eastern Congo, when your buying power dwindles from day to day, the very fact of getting up in the morning, walking hours to work or to study, is already a fight in itself. It is a way of contesting your invisibility to central authorities for whom you presumably don’t count, to demonstrate every morning that ‘You are still here and standing tall’.
‘Getting by’ is the only way to survive and is the engine driving the informal sector in Africa. Congolese women are the experts. They are called « Mamans » or « Aunties ». Whether they are from modest backgrounds or otherwise, if the husband can not cater for the household needs, she is the one the family counts on. These women open little food stalls and micro-businesses and ensure that there is at least a little bread or cassava “manioc” on the table. This is often the only meal of the day for the entire family.
2 Women, 2 different journeys, 2 faces of the same country.
Marie – is a Congolese mother who lives in the “Cité”– the poor communes of Kinshasa
Marie has several children, some of the older children have left but there are still younger ones at home. Her husband works « a little » but not enough to feed everyone, so Marie works buying the market and re-sells her products ‘door to door’ in the well-off Gombe district to the “Mundele”(expatriates)
Every day, she comes to sell her fruit and vegetables that she carries in a plastic basin on her head. She commutes daily by foot from “Somba Zingida” market to our apartment (as every little helps and who knows what a saved taxi fare might do).
She gets up at 5 am, to make sure she gets the best choice of fruit and veg, she fervently negotiates the prices with local producers as she knows her own profit margin won’t be much.
A seasonal pineapple in the Cité could cost between 2000 FCA et 5000 FCA (between 1.20 USD à 3 USD), it remains expensive when you know that it won’t sell for more than 1.5 times its cost.
Nadine Mabolia – is a Congolese woman from the upper middle-class, who lives in one of the ‘chic’ communes of Kinshasa: Ngaliema.
After studying in the University of Ottawa, Visual Arts in 1985, and opening her own photography studio, that unfortunately did not survive the disastrous civil upheaval in DRC in 1991, she changed direction towards her passion: food. Constantly creating delicious recipes from local produce solely based on Congolese ingredients! Marrying unique tastes and flavours, aromatic herbs, fresh and dried fruit and mixtures of spices. There is no limit to Nadine Mabolias’ imagination and creativity. She is passionate about pastry & guided by culinary curiosity. It is only natural that Nadine started enterprising and turning local fruits into delicious jams following a ‘jam-making’ cookery course that she completed in the technical food college in Avignon, France. This is how she developed her business and brand « Choix de Nadine”.
Marie & Nadine, will probably never meet one another.
LadyAgri could be the link to unite these two inspiring and enterprising women at different stages of the food supply chain.
LadyAgri can offer both the opportunity to train, to expand their businesses, to network, meet one another and to grow and inspire others.